Trust Your Gut to Guide the Way

By Dan Prescher,

Take a second right now and pat your stomach. Seriously. Just put your hand on your navel and give your belly a nice little pat. Your hand is resting on the most important tool for telling if a retirement destination is right for you. It's your gut.

Let me explain.
Peligro District, David, Panama
My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have lived and worked abroad for more than 15 years now. We've seen it happen time and time again. Someone will spend months, even years, doing boatloads of research: compiling data, making lists, reading books, digging into indexes. They'll analyze every possible angle. They'll anticipate every possible problem. They'll reach the only logical conclusion they can from the mountains of research they've done--and they'll make their move.

But sometimes they'll make that move without visiting for any length of time the very place they've chosen to spend the next few years--or maybe even the rest of their lives.

And in a week or two, they know they've picked the wrong place...because their gut will tell them so.
Guanajuato, Mexico
Everybody gets a reaction like that when they go someplace new. Sometimes it's instantaneous...they feel it as soon as they get off the plane. Sometimes it takes a day or two, or a week or two.

I get this feeling every time I visit the beach. I know that living next to the ocean, near a long stretch of beautiful, white sand, is most people's idea of paradise. But it only takes me a few days to long for the mountains. I simply prefer to be high and dry. It's something I feel rather than know.

Sooner or later, your gut--by which I mean your vast, sensitive, always active, and almost completely inaccessible unconscious--will tell you how it feels about your rational and well-researched choice of a place to relocate.
Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Who knows what goes into a reaction like this? The scent of the mercado, the taste of the food, the quality of the evening light in the town square, the texture of the cobblestones in the street, the height of the curbs, the color of the buildings, the attitude of the locals...all are subjective and have a particular meaning for you and you alone. And your unconscious pays attention to all those things--and a thousand more--without your ever realizing it.

Sooner or later, it will tell you exactly how it feels about them all. It will give you a big thumbs-up...or a big thumbs-down. You'll feel it right there where you just patted. And all the research and reading and preparation you did before you arrived won't matter.

One of my good expat friends did a full year's worth of research on the little town in South America he knew he wanted to retire to. He knew the village like the back of his hand...even had the streets memorized. He knew the annual rainfall and the average daily temperatures.

What he didn't know was how he felt about stray dogs. This little village didn't have any more than the usual number of strays found in any little Latin American town. But as soon as he'd been there for a few days, he realized that just one was too many for him. He'd never even considered that something like that would affect his experience, but it made all the difference to him. It didn't drive him away, though... In his case, it gave him a new direction in life. He started an animal rescue group in the village and helped organize annual spay and neuter clinics.
On the Road to Monteverde, Costa Rica
Getting this visceral input before you commit lock, stock, and barrel to a place is the most important thing you will do when preparing for your move abroad. It's your most important tool. That's why Suzan and I (and everyone we know at International Living) recommend that you try a place out for as long as possible before committing to it. This way, you ensure your gut is on board with what your mind has planned.

The intuitive and the rational. The unconscious and the conscious. Your gut and all your research.

Given a chance to work together, they'll rarely lead you astray.

This article comes to us courtesy of, the world's leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.

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